It’s possible that you’ve never heard of Adam Strange, but you will. Syfy’s Krypton, the TV series that tells the story of Superman’s homeworld 200 years before it exploded, is bringing the character to live action for the first time.
“Big deal,” you say, “TV is positively lousy with live action superheroes these days.”
Well, that may be true, but few of those heroes have the pedigree of Adam Strange, a hero who has been around nearly as long as Barry Allen Flash, and who was almost as important to a particular era of DC Comics history as Green Lantern or the Atom. Adam Strange even got his start in the pages of the same title where Barry Allen first appeared, in a 1958 issue of Showcase (Barry had arrived two years earlier, in 1956). When you have a character created by Silver Age greats like Julius Schwartz and Murphy Anderson, that’s a piece of comic book history that can’t just be ignored.
But Adam Strange never quite made the leap into broader pop culture the way many of his contemporaries did. The character already seemed like something of a throwback in 1958, to an era of ray guns and jetpacks that felt more at home in the Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers serials of decades earlier. His origin story recalled Edgar Rice Burroughs’ seminal Jon Carter of Mars, a man out of place on an alien world.
The Adam Strange of the comics is an archaeologist, who finds himself transported to the planet Rann via something known as a Zeta Beam. There, like Jon Carter or Flash Gordon before him, he becomes embroiled in planetary affairs, and falls in love with a woman. But there’s a unique and tragic twist to Adam Strange’s interstellar adventures: He can only remain on Rann for as long as the Zeta Beam radiation remains in his system, once it’s gone, he is instantly transported back to the point on Earth from which he left. This leaves Adam a sometimes helpless character, waiting for the next opportunity to catch a Zeta Beam back to his adopted planet and the woman he loves, knowing he can’t help them from light years away on Earth.
Over the years, Adam has played an increasingly important role in DC’s cosmic adventures. He has joined Justice League lineups. He has teamed with (and fought with) Hawkman as the planets Rann and Thanagar have found themselves in conflict. He has been a player in several of DC’s biggest stories over the last decade or so. Not bad for a character who felt a little old-fashioned even in 1958.
But Krypton introduces us to a slightly different version of the character, played by Shaun Sipos. Adam is now transported not just through space, but time as well, all the way back to a Krypton of 200 years prior. It’s still the Zeta Beam which occasionally wears off and sends him back to Earth at inopportune moments. But this isn’t a seasoned cosmic adventurer. Instead, he’s a guy in a hoodie, beat-up Chuck Taylors, and a Detroit Tigers baseball cap.
“I believe this is the start of his career,” Shaun Sipos told me on the set of Krypton back in December. “I think he’s had some small adventures. He’s still aiming to be at the top and be somebody, be a superhero, help people, and really make a go of it.”
The fact that this is a young, inexperienced look at the venerable DC hero is something that Sipos is well aware of, and it’s informing his take on the character in a number of ways. “In different takes on [Adam Strange], there’s always the same through line,” Sipos says, “which is that he’s a guy who had a hard childhood, doesn’t know how he could be a superhero, but he is. And through his experiences his confidence grows, and then he becomes the hero that you know him to be.”
When Adam Strange shows up on Krypton, he immediately seeks out Seg-El, Superman’s grandfather, to warn him of a threat coming that will wipe out the planet years earlier, which would prevent Seg’s descendant, and Earth’s greatest hero, from ever existing. Adam Strange goes to the Krypton of the past to save the Superman of the present. It’s an interesting twist on the character’s comic book roots. In that sense, the planet Krypton becomes the planet Rann for this version of Adam.
“I think that when he gets to Krypton, slowly through the friendships that he forms, and the alliances that form, he adopts them,” Sipos says. “The people of Krypton, Seg mainly, are like his Kryptonite. He cares, and we all know that in the end, Krypton’s going to explode.”
But Krypton is a world that has never had alien contact…until Adam came along. And since humans and Kryptonians look alike, there’s little reason for Seg-El to believe Adam’s story. That is, until Adam produces proof of Superman’s existence, brought with him from our time. And while this all sounds like a noble quest for one of Earth’s superheroes, Krypton showrunner and executive producer Cameron Welsh did offer a word of caution.
“I think what we’ll learn along the way is, maybe Adam Strange isn’t as reliable as we thought,” Welsh says. “Maybe we can’t trust everything he says. Adam Strange is kind of … well let’s just say he’s not exactly an A-lister. So he sees this opportunity to go back to Krypton and basically save the universe, prevent Brainiac from changing history and preventing Superman’s birth. He sees this as a chance to get into the Justice League and finally be taken seriously.”
That all sounds a little ominous, but nothing dampens Shaun Sipos’ enthusiasm for the character, even though he admits that he wasn’t familiar with Adam Strange before he took the role. “I had known of him, but I kind of thought that he was related in some sense to [Marvel’s] Doctor Strange,” he says. “And then I kind of went, oh shit, he’s his own guy. And he has his own legitimate stuff, his own comics. So that was super cool.”
But it’s still a little daunting to be the first person to portray a character with 60 years of comic book history behind him. Sipos decided to channel those very doubts into what the character of Adam Strange is going through on Krypton. “I’ll probably embrace that and embrace any insecurity that comes with that because that’s what Adam’s going through,” he says. “Every single time that I go through stuff, I remind myself that’s what his plight is. Am I going to do a good job? Are people going to go, ‘oh fuck, terrible.’ What are those insecurities? [Adam] is doing the same thing.”
One thing in particular jumped out that excited Sipos as he began prep for the role. “This guy’s got a rocket pack,” he says. “I’m so glad that I didn’t know that when I read for it. Otherwise, I think I might have been like, oh shit.” The reason for that reaction? Sipos is a big fan of 1991’s tremendously underrated superhero movie, The Rocketeer.
And while the plainly dressed (for the moment) Adam Strange of Krypton hasn’t yet taken flight, Sipos is ready when it happens. “I think that was one of the first questions I had to [Krypton executive producer] Cam [Welsh], when we met,” Sipos says. “It was like, ‘so when are we going to strap this baby on?'”
Hopefully he’ll get his chance.